Baduy: the Indonesian tribe that rejects technology and the modern world

UNTV News   •   December 17, 2019   •   730

Members of the Baduy Luar tribe walk around a Baduy Luar village in Kanekes, Lebak, Banten Province, Indonesia, 28 November 2019 (issued on 17 December 2019). EFE/EPA/MAST IRHAM

BADUY, INDONESIA – Disconnected from selfies and memes that the rest of the world is obsessed with, the Baduy people of Indonesia maintain ancestral laws that prohibit the use of technology and restrict foreign influence in order to preserve their unique way of life.

In the wooded mountains surrounding Kendang volcano, in the west of Java island, this community belonging to the Sundanese ethnic group rejects electricity, roads, soap, smartphones and modern medicine, among many other things part of daily life for most of the planet’s population.

To protect themselves from the rest of the world, for more than a century, Baduy territory has been divided into two zones: Outer Baduy, where the rules are relatively flexible and where tourists are welcome, and Inner Baduy, where three villages are located and where people strictly follow the animist faith known as Sunda Wiwitan.

On a rare visit to the most conservative area, whose access is forbidden to foreigners, an EFE team was able to witness the delicate balance in which the Baduy people live between Indonesia’s laws and the customs of their ancestors.

After more than three hours of walking between the villages and mountains of Outer Baduy, a bamboo bridge finally gives way to the cultural and mystical heart of the Baduy: the Interior, where only Indonesian visitors accompanied by a local can enter and may stay for a limited time.

In Cibeo, a town of homes made of bamboo, wood and straw, silence prevails. According to tradition, going to a doctor instead of a shaman, opening a Facebook account, or using a car can result in expulsion from the community.

In addition, harmony with nature is a divine mandate of the village: four-legged animals are not to be hunted and the course of water cannot be diverted. Houses line up along a stream where villagers wash utensils and clothes.

Ayah Naldi, one of the locals, said that every year two or three residents leave Inner Baduy or are expelled for breaking the rules, although they maintain family and commercial ties and attend traditional celebrations.

“I am not worried that our culture will be lost. If we ask permission from our leader, we can be free and live outside. But if we were born (and remain) in Inner Baduy, we must comply with the rules,” Naldi, wearing a white turban, told EFE.

About 1,500 people live in Inner Baduy and about 12,000 in Outer Baduy, where there are more than 60 towns.

While hundreds have left both territories, there are many who live between both worlds.

One of them is 25-year-old Mursid, who grew up in Cibeo. At age 16, after frequently visiting relatives abroad, he asked permission from the village leader and his parents to leave his hometown.

“I wanted to be free and there was no woman,” Mursid told EFE.

The young man frequently visits his parents in Cibeo despite living in the outside area, where he works as a farmer and sells handmade bags on Instagram and Shopee, modern tools that would be impossible to use in his hometown.

The development of the island of Java, the most populous in the world with about 140 million inhabitants and the economic nucleus of Indonesia, as well as the arrival of the internet have influenced one of the few places in the archipelago where social networks did not arrive until recently.

The difficulty in reconciling the needs and wishes of the people with ancestral norms and customs is the biggest challenge that the Baduy people are now facing, said Sarikan, deputy chief of the Outer town of Cipondok.

The weaving of clothes, the manufacturing of handmade goods for tourists and the cultivation of fruit trees and rice are the main economic activities of the Baduy in the Interior, which prevents the over-exploitation of nature.

Most foreign residents have plantations outside the Baduy territory and the use of technology or mobile phones is common. Although the rules do not allow it, Sarikan acknowledged that “we are human, and sometimes they (technology and mobile phones) are used for economic needs.” EFE-EPA

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